As a Crew Manager in West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Control Room, Mark Thompson spends every day helping others during some of their worst moments.
However, when he and his wife experienced a horrific tragedy themselves, he says turning to us for a helping hand was a huge help to both of them – and made him realise just how important it is to speak up and ask for support during difficult times.
Mark, 59, and his wife Jeanette, 57, were left facing unimaginable grief a few years ago when two of their close relatives died in a house fire. While they initially tried to face it all alone, it wasn’t until a few months later – following the inquest – when Mark realised what they’d been through was having major knock-on effects on his day-to-day life.
He was advised to reach out to us and says a break away for the two of them at the time was a much-needed support net.
“My wife and I lost relatives in a house fire a few years ago,” says Mark. “Being in the job that I’m in, it did affect my wife and I really badly.
“It was after the inquest when we really needed support. It brought it home what had actually happened, and we heard all the details unfortunately. The help was really needed then.
“My mental health was impacted… it was not really being able to get certain images out of our minds. I did work a lot through the process, when we were grieving, and things came back to me every time we were dealing with house fires and things like that – particularly if people had been hurt.
“I couldn’t go home and share that with my wife, knowing we’d dealt with a bad job, because obviously my wife was really, really struggling with her grief.
“My sons could tell that we were not ourselves and they mentioned a couple of times about the Charity. They remembered when they were younger going to Harcombe House, when I had a nasty ankle injury.”
Mark was approached by one of our Charity Reps in West Yorkshire, who told him a little more about some of the different support pathways available to him. From there, he spoke to us and she was able to arrange a stay at Jubilee House for him.
“We jumped at the chance to be honest. That was back in 2015,” says Mark. “Our rep did all the arranging for us, which was really good, I don’t think we were really in a fit state to do much. It all happened within a couple of days, I can’t commend her enough.”
Mark and Jeanette were offered a week’s stay in one of our self-contained bungalows at Jubilee House at the time, with access to the gym, pool, sessions with our team and group wellbeing sessions.
“For us, it was more mental health and wellness over physical, but we could take part in everything,” says Mark. “The staff were absolutely outstanding. They couldn’t do enough for us, it was fantastic.
“It was a really comfortable experience in all the group sessions, with very knowledgeable leads that knew their stuff. Once the initial nerves were sorted out, the sessions were brilliant.”
Mark adds: “I’ve adapted a lot of the tools I learned at Jubilee into my life – both at home and at work. Strategies like calming people down and focusing on what is important, what we can change, and looking forward to a better state of mental health, is so important.
“Sometimes we firefighters need the help that we give to the public as part of our jobs, and we’re right where we should be with that – having the Charity there for us.”
Since returning to work, Mark has been spreading the word to his colleagues about his experiences, in the hopes they reach out as early as possible if they feel they’d benefit from our support.
“We should be encouraging people to get in touch as soon as they possibly can,” says Mark. “There’s certain people in our job that have been really badly affected by things that have happened at home and that support from the Charity is so important – it changed our life.
“If you are open about it, then realistically you’ll get the help you need – potentially by our charity.”
Mark and his wife have also begun fostering children since their experience, initially aiming to help anyone going through grief who may not have parental figures in their lives to support them.
“It’s our charity, it supports us, it’s there”
“We’ve got three children in long-term foster care and one on a special guardianship – like adoption. Two of the others are also going through that process,” says Mark.
“That seemed a good thing to do after we’d started to refocus on our lives, following the support from the Charity – we wanted to do something positive.
“It was initially to help children that had gone through a grieving process, it’s so important to help other people – that’s what the fire service is all about. Plus, the children are a good healer, they keep you on your toes!”
Mark is also encouraging anyone reading his story to give what they can, when they can to our Charity, to ensure others like him have somewhere to turn when they need support.
“It’s very, very important to donate to The Fire Fighters Charity – what you can, when you can,” says Mark. “And it’s equally important to get involved in the events that we do. It’s our charity, it supports us, it’s there. Sometimes we don’t think about it until we actually need to use the services. It needs all the support it can get.
“When we talk about hard times and budgeting being really tight, we’ve still got to remember that the Charity – whatever happens from day one all the way through – is there for us.
“In Yorkshire terms, a couple of quid in the right direction will secure our future and the Charity for other people.
“Because it’s been so good for myself and my wife, we make sure that we always get involved in some way – as does my family. It’s our Charity, and it’s there to support us – as it did for me.”
If you’re struggling with your health and wellbeing, we may be able to help you. Call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or register for MyFFC now and visit the ‘Access Support’ tab at the top of the MyFFC homepage.
You can also join our ‘Share Your Story’ Group in MyFFC, by clicking on the ‘Groups’ tab, to chat to others who have received our support or enquire about sharing your own story.